Emotional Avoidance and Disbelief in Death

02/09/2012 02:34 pm ET | Updated Apr 10, 2012

"And as I have said to him a thousand or more times through the years, 'Well isn't life just a kick in the pants?' -- Esther Hicks, on the recent death of her husband, Jerry.

It's an odd thing to say, isn't it -- disbelief in death. Usually people contest life after death, or concepts like reincarnation. Yet, there are people who express that there is no such thing as death. Meaning, they believe that physical death is the birthing of the soul into some higher expression of consciousness, which remains undiminished and lives on. In this higher thinking, the physical path leading to death is insignificant.

While I do experience that the soul in some guise persists after the form expires, I most definitely experience that our life as well as our physical death are highly relevant events in our soul's growth. My reality perches on the cycles of Nature, which is comprised of seasons building and harvesting, death and rebirth. As an animistic spiritual occupant of the formed Nature realm, every season contributes something new, as does my emotional reaction to each season. Not honoring that death is part of the experience here -- that it's supposed to be -- is lacking. Moreover, to expect there to be birth without death in Nature's timing seems arrogant.

Am I'm splitting hairs? Is this just the difference between speaking literally and figuratively? Maybe. Maybe underlying such a belief is the distinction between finite physical death and spiritual infinity. Of late, though, I've encountered several spiritual healers, shamans, who insist that there is no such thing as death. Part of their practice hails death always as a joyful passage that should be celebrated.

To a large degree this belief is a New Age import of the "always be happy" variety. Given that context, I wonder how such healers work with grieving others. To approach death as nonexistent for yourself or your own beliefs is one thing. As a healer, to insist such to those in the midst of the emotional storm of grief baffles me. In fact, I find that treatment steeped in denial and emotional avoidance.

I admit, I'm wary of healers who seek a shamanic path with eyes trained only on what spirit guides say, to the detriment of acquiring skills in the pastoral counseling aspects of the shaman's role. The human dynamic is nothing if not laced with sticky, often deeply troubling emotional states, such as grief. These emotions can't be overlooked in the healing process any more than they can be avoided in life, itself. Talking with spirit ancestors for guidance and insight into healing is no substitute for being present and helping someone process grief after tremendous loss. Processing emotion is as essential to shamanic work as spiritual guidance. In fact, sometimes we can't even hear the spiritual guidance until we process emotion.

Modern shaman Sandra Ingerman gives wonderful insight into moving through stages of grief in a recent article, "How to Deal With Grief." Her approach to working with grief could be applied not just to the loss of a loved one, but to distress following any life transition.

We can only meet someone where they are. We cannot force them to be in an emotional place that they're not, which means that in order to help them shift into a lighter state, we must possess skills that assist them in processing heavy emotions. Regardless of higher consciousness awareness of the soul's infinite path, I see no value in complicating someone's grief by insisting that the loss underlying it isn't important.

Ultimately, if physical life didn't play a significant role in the shaping of our soulstories, we wouldn't come here. We wouldn't do this dance through Nature's seasons of constant progression and regression. We wouldn't put ourselves through the emotional expanse of the human experience.

How do your beliefs about death and the soul help you cope with loss? How do they shape how you live?

Kelley is a neoshaman and author in North Carolina. She has been on a shamanic path for 24 years, and for 14 years has served her local community and an international client base. Her book "Gift of the Dreamtime: Awakening to the Divinity of Trauma" chronicles her pivotal step into the role of modern shaman. Kelley's current work focuses on The Tribe of the Modern Mystic, an effort to promote community and support among seers experiencing spiritual emergency as they begin their paths. She is a Reiki Master and is currently pursuing a Masters of Divinity.

Kelley writes the column, Intentional Insights - Q&A From Within, and has been published in many journals and anthologies. She is a founder of The Saferoom Project, a non-profit support network for sexual assault survivors, and their partners, family and friends. Kelley honors the path of the modern Druid. Her shamanic practice is Soul Intent Arts, and she is vigorously involved with the worlds in and around her.

Find Soul Intent Arts updates on Facebook and @SoulIntentArts. Read Kelley's literary updates and tweets @SKelleyH.

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